Sunday 22nd September and I was up very early for the second morning in a row but this time by design rather than accident. It was one of the few occasions in a very long time I had set my alarm for anything but this was important stuff as I mentioned at the end of my last post. You may know that I am following the Rugby World Cup in Japan and Ireland were playing Scotland to open their campaign with kickoff at 0845 due to the time difference. It is an unholy hour for a rugby match but not as bad as it might be as some of the games start at 0545 but thankfully not too many.
The Ireland game was immediately followed by England vs. Tonga at a more respectable 1115 so it was going to be a busy day one way and another. I had roused myself and got ready so early that I had time for a wander along the front and my obligatory couple of images which I have included at the top of the page just to kick off and give the page a half-decent look. (Kick off, rugby, get it? I don’t just throw this stuff together you know. OK, I lied, I do just throw this stuff together).
Under the old regime I would have been straight into the cider but times have changed radically and it was coffee first. I am drinking so much coffee now it is unreal. I suppose they will tell me now that coffee is no good for me either! Dave made me up a large one in the rather cute Winnie the Pooh mug and quickly followed that with a tasty sausage roll just to keep the wolf from the door. The day started well with Ireland completely dismantling a Scottish side who were very disappointing. I cannot see them doing anything in this competition.
It is pretty well worked out that there is only a short gap between games, allowing the experts in the studio to have a few words of a roundup and then change over to the next lot and so it was almost immediately on to England vs. Tonga at 1115. The pub had filled up well for this game because a) it was England and b) it was a much more civilised hour and once again Dave produced trays laden with sausage rolls which were devoured in short order. By this time I was on to “ciderwater” and if you do not know what this is please check back on my previous posts. It is interesting to compare and contrast Breakfasts Mk. I and II which were timed at 0853 and 1124 respectively.
Unsurprisingly, England ran out easy winners by 35 to 3 and they really are looking good this time around after a rather ignominious pool stage exit in their home tournament in 2015 after being beaten by Wales and Australia. I know the English sporting press are notorious for over-hyping any home side in any competition but I honestly think that the team coached by Eddie Jones has as good a chance this time round as at any time since they won it in 2003. Their back row particularly is explosive and they appear strong in every department with a strong bench to cope with injury and allow for rotation. this will be an interesting competition.
Enough of the rugby. If you are a fan, you will already know all this by the time I publish the post and if you are not then you do not want to know it! As for a travel blog entry I am afraid there is little more to add today as it was just another day spent in the pub trying desperately not to drink too much. It is certainly not the way I would wish to live but it has been forced on me and I shall have to make the best of it.
Back home to the Wrotham, which was feeling more and more like home with each passing day, a quick snack and a couple of chapters of my book and then head down for another peaceful night’s sleep.
Tomorrow, I go back to Margate and make an interesting discovery plus I get to the bottom of the “Mystery of the Beano Cafe” which you will know about if you have read my previous posts so stay tuned and spread the word.
I do not know if you have reached this page through following my exploits chronologically / sequentially or if you just landed here by reason of something very bad you did in a previous life! If it is the former you will know that I had been up eating snacks at 0430 on this morning and if it is the latter you will not have known this but you do now! Despite all this nocturnal noshing I still managed to awake at some ridiculously early hour and I knew I would not get back to sleep so it was up and shower and out to face a pretty decent if chilly autumnal morning.
Viking Bay, Broadstairs.
You may know that I am following the Rugby World Cup when I can. Dave the manager opens the George pub early (his normal time is 1100) if there is a match of particular interest on but I could not for the life of me remember if he was opening before time on that particular day so I took a bit of a wander along the front and had a try at taking an “arty” type shot or two of the sun reflecting off the water. I’m not sure if this is arty or just a mess but I quite like it. The rather safer options of the pier and Viking Bay and the information board at least turned out vaguely competent
I eventually ambled up to the pub in time for the 1045 kick off New Zealand vs. South Africa fixture. If you don’t follow rugby, these are two big hitters either of whom could win the competition and it was always going to be a bruising affair. The NZ All Blacks are my tip for the Cup as they are just so consistently good. The game was as tough as it had looked on paper and NZ ran out eventual winners 23 – 13. Although it will dent their confidence a bit this is not a major setback for the Springboks (South Africa) as both teams should progress from the group stage to the quarter finals.
If it is an early kick off, Dave knocks up bacon or bacon and sausage rolls (free, gratis and for nothing) which he dishes up to all and sundry and much appreciated they are. He was not doing that on this day but he seems to have taken it upon himself to feed me up following my recent illness. In truth, I am a bit thin at present. To this end produced a huge bowl of chilli con carne which was left over from the quiz night on the Thursday although he had spiced it up just a little as he knows I like a bit of a kick to my food but it was still not terribly hot. What it was, though, was completely gorgeous as anything in the stew / casserole / curry etc. line is when left overnight and re-heated. I know that proper recipes for certain French dishes actually call for them to be left overnight to let the flavours “get to know each other” as I like to put it.
My dear friend Poetry the barmaid was in the pub although not in a working capacity and she had been partying all night. I remember the days I was her age and could do it as well. As it happens, I reckon I probably still could if the Doctors would let me. Well, for one night anyway. There was no way I could finish all that Dave had given me although I had a good go at it and Poetry asked could she finish it. I wish she had asked me earlier as we could have got another plate and shared it while it was still hot. She took one spoonful of it and what happened next was spectacular. I wish I had had the presence of mind to film it as it was comical. As I said , it was not really hot at all but she reacted as if it was a Phall curry with extra naga chillies on the side. She was fanning her mouth, gasping, calling for water and all sorts of antics, it really was hysterical. When she had eventually calmed down sh told me that she cannot eat spicy food at all. I would love to see her face off a proper Thai jungle curry some time, that would be worth watching.
After the rugby I had a bit of a catch up on this blog and about half three in the afternoon I was hungry again despite the huge amount of chilli I had consumed not five hours previously. Back across the road to the Seafarer which I have mentioned previously and a battered sausage and chips was soon enough delivered to my table in the pub, I love this system!
More online activity and a couple of pints of my new tipple followed so I suppose I should tell you about that. I was in the Wrotham one evening and lamenting the fact that I had been forced to cut down on my consumption so radically to Mira the barmaid. I have known Mira for a long time and her husband is a musician in a couple of prog rock bands so we all get along very well. Mira asked me if if I fancied a “ciderwater”. A what? Mira is a cider drinker herself and she told me that she sometimes drinks it when she is working. It is effectively a cider shandy but made half and half with soda water instead of lemonade, hence the name. It sounded disgusting and I told her so but Mira has a habit of talking me into doing things I don’t want to do which hitherto had normally meant me having another pint of real cider and so I had one.
What can I tell you about “ciderwater” other than that I was right? It did taste disgusting although I am still drinking it and actually getting used to it a bit now. Certainly it is not a patch on the proper stuff but you can still taste a little something. I just could not spend a whole evening drinking soda water and lime or orange juice or whatever. Added to that it looks like a pint, albeit somewhat anaemic so I do not have the psychological thing of everybody knowing I am not drinking. I know it is not a problem but everybody round here knows my backstory and it would just take too long to keep explaining it. I must admit I still feel a bit embarrassed asking barstaff for it but they do not bat an eyelid. Changed times from when I was a young man when even driving was not deemed an excuse for not drinking, ridiculous as that is.
Of course there is the financial aspect of drinking and I reckon that with my new ciderwater regime coupled with the vaping instead of lining the Government’s pockets with their unjustifiable tobacco taxes I must be saving a fortune. Ordinarily I would put a windfall like this towards another overseas trip but obviously that is not currently an option. I’ll let you know what happens.
Come about half past eight in the evening and that appetite of mine was rearing it’s not so ugly head again. Seafarer time again for a “snack” of two fishcakes, just to keep me going you understand. Being a Saturday night, it was a little later to bed that night although I still managed yet another few late night munchies before I got my head down.
There is important rugby in the next post (yes, more important than NZ vs. RSA) so stay tuned and spread the word.
Hello again folks and thanks for your forebearance in waiting for an update here which I know has been long overdue but the reasoning will be explained in the next post after this one. It is an interesting story to say the least. I intend to put three days together here for your ease of reading although I am actually composing and publishing this in late September and backdating as always.
Saturday, 17th August 2019.
The Saturday after Folk Week I was up fairly early as I knew I had to check out of my hotel pretty early and then get all my gear over to Broadstairs to my new abode in the Wrotham Arms. I like to travel light but the guitar case and the weight of the laptop with it’s various accessories in my daypack makes for a fairly cumbersome load. I was feeling OK as I decided to walk into Ramsgate and get the bus over rather than call a cab which would not have been expensive. I knew I could not “check in” at the Wrotham until 1600 as the pub does not open at lunchtime and there would have been nobody there so it was an obvious choice to head back to the George for a quiet couple of pints which is what I did.
In years past this day was known as Survivors Saturday where all the local site crew would come to the Neptunes Hall pub after having struck all the fencing etc. from the various sites ready for collection by the hire company. The sites take three days hard graft to set up and one frantic Saturday morning to take apart. I know as I have done both things before and the speed of the Saturday demolition is undoubtedly fuelled by the thought of the free beer the organisers put on in the Neps. As well as the crew, some of the organisers, local musicians, local volunteers from the Workforce and the odd (in every sense of the word) itinerant visiting muso like myself would all attend and there would be a bit of an informal debrief on the week just passed. Folk music was absolutely banned and Ken the landlord took great delight in putting pop music on the pub sound system with never so much as a “hey nonny no” or a finger in the ear! I love folk music but there is a limit and It did make for a pleasant change.
Sadly, in recent years, the tradition of Survivors fell into decline somewhat and it was finally killed off when Ken and Jill retired in 2018 and the premises were refurbished, re-opening in November of that year. As part of the new regime, the Neptunes does not now open at lunchtime so that was that. I sat in the George looking across the road somewhat wistfully at the closed and darkened pub opposite and thinking of how things had changed over the years I had been there. In that vein I took an image of a sign that Dave had put up in the George earlier that week which you can see above. This was prompted by some wild rumours that had been circulating that it was going to be the last Folk Week ever.
I think I should put things into some sort of perspective here regarding Broadstairs Folk Week and I should say that I have a reasonable handle on what is going on. I know a lot of people and I hear things, confidences I am obviously not going to break here but shall speak in general terms and the first of which is so obvious it is ridiculous. The rumour of the demise of the Festival was apparently based on the fact that it had gone bankrupt but just think logically about this. I know the Festival accountant and the final accounts are not put together until some time later as there are still outstanding matters to be settled and so declaring the event bankrupt whist it is still in progress (and hopefully generating money in the form of collections etc.) is very premature.
Certainly it is no secret that Folk Week had to downsize a bit this year due to less corporate sponsorship and several other factors. This was the first year that I can remember when the main focus of the Festival was not a huge marquee along with attendant beer tent in Pierremont Park as they just could not afford it this year. The beer tent, which is run by my great friend Jenny, was relocated to the Craft Fair area adjacent to the Bandstand but the seating was totally outside and the weather really was not suitable for al fresco drinking for most of the week as I have mentioned previously. There are numerous other factors in play which I shall not bore the reader with but I cannot see this superb event folding just yet. I know it came close some years ago but everyone rallied round, gave of their time and talents for nothing and we survived somehow. I am sure we can do it again, at least I hope we can.
During the afternoon I popped across the road to get a cheeseburger as I had not eaten for a day or two and knew I really should. I had taken a large bite out of it before remembering my camera and blog as you can see and normally I would not publish such an image but this burger is to prove important so I am glad I had this on file. The big bite was about the best I managed as I forced myself to eat as much as I could but still only managed about half of it, I really was in no mood for eating.
On my way up to the Wrotham to dump my kit I passed Harrington’s Store and could not resist popping my head in to ask if I could take a photo which the guy was more than happy for me to do. Harringtons is quite simply a timeslip, it is a general store and stocks anything you could possibly want and quite a lot of things you may never want. Again, I shall revert to an old review from my Virtual Tourist writings to explain.
“I don’t know if readers will have seen the absolutely classic comedy sketch by the British comedy duo, the Two Ronnies (Barker and Corbett). It has been voted best sketch in the history of British comedy. If you haven’t seen it, I have posted a link here.
There is a bit of Broadstairs folklore associated with it. The shop pictured is the simply wonderful Harringtons which is worth a visit in itself, it is an absolute cornucopia. It is situated at 1 York Street. I visited recently to buy a French bean cutter (long story, don’t ask) and was amazed at what was available, I kid you not, they have everything from a single screw to sets of saucepans to builders supplies and just about everything else.
Anyway, I know that some years ago, Ronnie Corbett had a holiday home just across the road (behind the Charles Dickens pub if you are interested) and was in the place. He was so enthralled that Ronnie Barker subsequently wrote the iconic skit based on this place. So there you have it. Fork handles”.
In the way of these things I had my bubble partially burst a couple of years later as I was staying in digs in Broadstairs during Folk Week and had borrowed an autobiography of Ronnie Corbett from my landlady where he states that the original idea came from a shop in Hayes in Middlesex although Harrington’s vast range did indeed influence the final script. Honestly, even if you don’t buy anything just go in for a look, they are well used to it.
As for the bean cutter mentioned, it went straight in the bin when I nearly removed a finger with it, it was bloody (literally as well as figuratively) dangerous.
My home from home in the Wrotham Arms.
I made it in good order to the Wrotham, spoke to Jackie and was billeted in Room Six, which is the best room apart from the fancy en-suite family room. As you can see from the images it is lovely and cosy and I do rather like it. Over the years I think I have stayed in every room there. It faces the road but it is not a problem as it is as quiet as the grave after the early evening. Like most of the rooms it is not en-suite but that is no problem as the communal bathroom is only a few steps along the corridor. It is kept spotless and the shower is piping hot with a good pressure which is all I could ask for really.
I didn’t feel much like heading back into town that night and so settled for a quiet time in the bar chatting to Jackie. It was pretty quiet and so we had a good chance to catch up on things. I was still taking it easy and did not drink a lot. By about half midnight I bid goodnight and headed towards my bed. OK, I know this is technically the 18th but bear with me. I walked to the bottom of the stairs which is literally no more than 30 feet from where I was sitting and doubled over with the most excruciating pain in my stomach, it was absolutely agonising. I half crawled and half staggered to bed, kicked off my shoes and curled up in a foetal position fully clothed and lay there all night in far too much pain to sleep. I must have dozed off for a little while but not long and woke in the same pain shortly after.
Sunday 18th August, 2019.
This was just a day of unmitigated discomfort where the only position I could lie in that did not make me physically cry out was lying in the same foetal position on my left side (for some reason it was no good on my right) and practice shallow breathing as inhaling or exhaling too deeply sent a stabbing pain through my abdomen again. The interesting thing and the sole reason I did not try to get help, if indeed I could have got out of the bed, was that I had had exactly the same symptoms some years before whilst on a canal boat trip with friends which is documented elsewhere on this site. In that case the worst of it passed within about 24 hours and when I consulted a pharmacist she diagnosed trapped wind and prescribed something for that. In light of what was to transpire, I suspect this was a very flawed diagnosis!
Another full day and night of extreme discomfort trying to catnap where possible but being awoken by the pain after the merest of 40 winks every time.
Monday, 19th August, 2019.
I woke after one of my brief and fitful dozes on the Monday morning and felt much better. Not anything like 100% but not nearly as bad and fit enough to go out. I didn’t feel like eating but I went to the George in the afternoon to watch the Football later on. Again, I was very circumspect in my drinking and spent the afternoon catching up on my blogging here. At about 1900 I started to feel rough very quickly and within half an hour I knew there was no way I could walk back to my digs even though it is only a fifteen minute slow amble to get there. I had to get the barmaid to get me a cab and I am sure the driver must have thought me the laziest man in Thanet. I did not even feel well enough to explain. Something was definitely going to have to be done.
What was done is fully explained at some considerable length in the next post so stay tuned and spread the word.
Friday 16th August arrived and it was already the last day of Folk Week which had simply flown by due to my delayed start. It also occurred to me very quickly that it was my late Mother’s birthday, may she rest in peace, which always happens either during or just after Folk Week depending on how the calendar falls. This year was a bit special, however, as it would have been her 90th birthday.
Sadly, we lost her to the evil that is cancer ten years ago although it certainly does not seem like it.
Certainly I owe my Father a huge amount, notably my very defined sense of right, wrong and fair play but it was my Mother that instilled in me my great love of reading which I suspect influenced so much else in my life. She was not a huge traveller herself with a trip to Vancouver Island in Canada accompanying my Father’s Male Voice Choir her sole foray outside Europe but one of her many jobs was as a librarian and the more she encouraged me the more I read about “exotic” foreign places and the more I wanted to visit them. As I approach my 60th birthday (yes, I know, and there is nobody more surprised than me at how it crept up) and this situation still exists.
The tagline of this website is “Travelling while I still can” and that is very much the case. I have all sorts of ideas half formed although many have had to be put on the back burner for a while for reasons that will become apparent if you read on a few more entries in this series.
My usual “Thanet Loop” bus, which is an excellent service, whisked me quickly to Broadstairs, ordered a pint of breakfast and set up with Paul. for the last playaround of the week in the George Inn. For me it had only been four but it really did seem to go quickly. If the Tuesday had been a day of greetings then the Friday was very much a day of farewells. There are events until the early hours of Saturday morning and the campsite is open on the Friday night, many people will tend to drift off on Friday afternoon especially if they have a fair distance to go or, as in the case of several friends, are heading straight to Whitby Folk Week for another week of much of the same.
After our session, a few of us headed to the Magnet micropub for a drink and a bit of a play again I still was not feeling up to much but I had something I needed to sort out before I headed back over to Ramsgate for my last night in my digs there. The last sentence should give you a clue here. It would have been no problem to head back to London on the Saturday but I felt as if I had only just arrived in Thanet and I always stay for a little while after Folk Week to hang out with my numerous friends here and usually pick up a few gigs as well. When I say a little while, that is a fairly subjective term as I did not leave until 9th November in 2018! Come on, I love it here.
My very cosy home away from home.
Any of the conventional accommodation options locally would have proved to be a bit of a strain on the budget especially as it was still in the relatively short high season and hoteliers rightly have to make a bit of money when they can. My “ace in the hole” here was my dear friend Jackie who is the landlady of the wonderful Wrotham Arms pub situated on the Ramsgate Road and far enough out of the centre to leave it quiet even on weekend nights when the local youth can create mayhem in the town but still central enough that leaves it less than a ten minute amble to Albion Street / High Street, the “main drag”. There are rooms above and I have stayed there many, many times over more years than I care to remember. Jackie has been there ten years now and before that the Wrotham was run by another dear friend Jenny and between them I doubt if there is a room of the nine available that I have not laid my head down on one occasion or another. It suits me down to the ground.
I spoke to the lovely Jackie and she told me that I was in luck. I knew she would have probably been full with musicians during the Festival but may have had a room free now. I was in luck, although Jackie wasn’t, as she had been let down at the last minute by a gang of visiting workers who make up much of her clientele. She told me to pitch up the next afternoon as she does not open lunchtime and I would be most welcome. She also quoted a most attractive “mates rate” for the room which was easily within my budget and meant that I could stay more or less as long as I wanted which suited nicely. As a bit of a quid pro quo I told her not to bother the cleaner (yes, before you ask, I know her as well!) as I would make my own bed and tidy up after myself. I don’t see the need for the poor woman to knock her pan out every day making my bed etc. and if I needed a new bin liner or towel or whatever, I’d dump them outside the door for replacement. I am fairly low maintenance and everyone is happy.
The bar was fairly quiet and so I had a couple of leisurely pints whilst catching up on the gossip but was still a fairly early return to Spencer Court and another early bed. Something still wasn’t right with me and I had no idea what it might be.
All will be explained soon so stay tuned and spread the word.
Wednesday 14th August arrived with reasonable weather but look at the skies told me that it was very possibly not going to remain that way, which indeed proved to be the case later on.
The very first thing I needed to do was to get one of these microcard things for my new camera as it was about as much use as a lawnmower on a submarine without it and so time to check the internet for a suitable outlet and here I encountered another small problem with the guesthouse that could have been solved so easily with a little thought. Spencer Court boasts wifi and it may well have it but it is password protected and the only place the lengthy alphanumeric password is displayed is in the entrance hall which meant I was either going to have to run downstairs, write it down and then go back up to my room or else lug my laptop downstairs and input it there. Not a major problem certainly but it surely would not be beyond the wit of man to put a simple notice somewhere in every room. Again, it is just indicative of how they could improve the guesthouse considerably with just a little thought and without spending too much money. I took the lazy way out used my ‘phone instead.
I discovered a place called CeX which was right in the middle of town and not far from where I had to catch my bus to Broadstairs and wandered along to the shop where I spoke to a very helpful young lady who produced a 64GB SDXC cartridge which is apparently what I needed for £12 as it was second hand. I suppose the name of the business, which is presumably a contraction of Computer Exchange or something, should have given me a clue. It didn’t bother me in the slightest and a subsequent check slightly annoyed me as apparently I could have got the exact one I was sold for £9:99 online or in a Curry’s store that actually stocks them! Slightly irritating but at least I was good to go then.
A quick bus journey and I was back in the George Inn and setting up with Paul for the day’s session which turned out to be another good one with a decent crowd. The numbers of players generally tend to decrease as the week progresses when people who cannot stay the whole week drift off home but it was pretty consistent this year so in the very unlikely event that any of you may read this blog at some point, thank you all so much for coming as there is not much point in having a playaround if there is nobody there to play around!
We played away as happy as sandboys and it was getting darker and darker outside which convinced me that my earlier weather forecast was going to prove to be correct as it began to pour and when I say pour I mean it, it was positively monsoonal. Regrettably for an event that is so weather dependent Folk Week seems to suffer more than it’s fair share of appalling weather and I have been there, sometimes camping which was no fun, in conditions that would not have disgraced SE Asia in the wet season. I had been told that on the Sunday night / Monday morning there had been heavy rains and winds approaching hurricane strengths. There had been weather warnings issued by the Met Office and I have it on good authority that 33 tents were completely wiped out on the official campsite.
Amongst the victims under canvas was my mate Ted Handley from the excellent folk band Triality who are three brothers featuring a slightly unusual line-up of bass, accordian and trumpet, work that one out if you can. They are all great friends of mine and have been playing Broadstairs even longer than I have! Ted had one of these huge family marquee affairs that you need a map and compass to navigate round and he was camping with the whole family and enough kit to service a battalion but when the portable palace blew down he had to borrow his brother’s much more modest four man tent which put somewhat of a damper on things.
I’ll let the images speak for themselves regarding the weather and it was partly because of this that I didn’t fancy moving far after we had finished but the main reason I wanted to stay was that the afternoon act was the Baggy Boys who I love. If you have never experienced the Baggies, as they are known to their fanatical following, it is going to be extremely hard to describe what they are as they defy all conventional band knowledge.
The Baggies official website lists eight members although at the gig I am reporting on here they were apologising profusely that one of the band had had to return home early and there were still eight of them. I’ll swear I have seen them playing with about 14 members although it was at a previous Folk Week and in the evening of a hard day so I may conceivably have been seeing double by then. Looking at the band onstage it appears that about half the band play electro-acoustic guitars and all playing the same chords (no Eagles style duetting here), there is a decent lead guitarist and the rhythm section consists of electric bass and a cajon drum in place of the conventional kit. Various other percussive instruments are swapped around within the band and often the audience as well.
All this sounds as if it must be total chaos and it can indeed get quite hilariously disorganised onstage occasionally but the cleverly thought out repertoire of crowd-pleasing singalong numbers, hugely amusing banter between numbers and a very obvious delight in what they are doing makes this one of the most unfailingly good time pub bands I have ever seen, if you ever get a chance you should really go and check them out.
You might wonder how such an unusual outfit came into being and, frankly, so am I. Every time you ask one of them, or indeed anyone who has ever been associated with them in any capacity, you will get a different answer. Either they do it deliberately to build up a bit of mystique or they genuinely cannot remember themselves. Having met them many times I reckon either hypothesis is equally likely. The lads played to a hugely appreciative audience including Dave, the pub “guv’nor”, who you can see above strutting his stuff on the tambourine behind the bar. Like every other landlord in town he loves them and they are never short of bookings during Folk Week. Like myself, they usually manage to blag a couple more impromptu ones when they are here just for the love of the thing and they really are the Martini band – “Anytime, any place, anywhere”.
If the origins of the band itself are somewhat shrouded in mystery there is a little less controversy about how they came to be playing at Folk Week. I have it on good authority that a few of the guys were down for the Festival purely as punters and obviously had their instruments with them. Fancying a bit of a jam (I know that feeling well) they approached Chrissy, the landlady of the Prince Albert pub, and asked if they could play a few tunes. Of course they could as Chrissy is a great one for live music and was a great supporter of Folk Week and it was full steam ahead. She enjoyed them so much she booked them on the spot for the next year with the full band. As always, in the interest of fair reporting, I should say that Chrissy and her partner are great friends of mine, I still see them regularly although not in the P.A. which was taken over by an outfit called the Craft Union Pub Company and got rid of my friends. They replaced them with a manageress who quickly alienated all the regulars, most of whom left and have not returned, and turned the upstairs manager’s accommodation into a clubhouse for a local outlaw motorcycle club! Unbelievable but true. She is gone now and apparently there was a decent couple in there next whose daughter now runs it well but I will never be across the door of it again. As for the Baggies, they played the next year, ate the place and the rest, as they say, is history.
By early evening the weather was not as bad as it had been but still not great and I didn’t fancy trekking all the way up to St. Peter’s where Paul was trying to get some sort of a session together. I still was not feeling great, nothing I could put my finger on but just a general malaise and I certainly was not drinking a whole lot so I decided to stay put in the George as the evening act was anther guy I know called Paul Messenger. Paul’s stage name Paul One Love, which probably gives you an idea as to what kind of stuff he plays. Paul is a troubadour i.e. one man and his guitar and plays to backing tracks from a seriously state of the art backing track machine. I’ll swear NASA could launch rockets with that piece of kit. His set is all covers with a heavy emphasis on reggae and ska, particularly UB40 and Bob Marley. He is very good and has a large local following wherever he plays. Rumour has it that he is also an excellent cook but I have never been invited to dinner yet!
Paul is one of the hardest working musicians I know and he will do a three or three and a half hour set with one very short break, he really does give value for money. I watched most of it until it was time to go and get the last bus home as taxis are like hen’s teeth during the Festival. A couple more chapters of my book and it was sleepy time again in that rather comfortable bed.
Still another couple of days of the Festival to go and a bit of an adventure thereafter so stay tuned and spread the word.
Well, Broadstairs Folk Week has been and gone again and I am actually writing this as the dust settles in the aftermath. I know I have mentioned it many times before on various pages on this site but for newcomers a) welcome and b) a quick word of explanation. This is undoubtedly my favourite festival in the world and I have been playing it in one guise or another for 30 of the last 31 years. I missed 2016 as I was in Canada travelling and playing the odd gig so I reckon that was a reasonable excuse. On that occasion my travelling companion told me I was like a bear with a sore head (she knows all about bears with sore heads as she is Canadian herself) because I was fretting about not being on the Kent coast making a noise on my guitar.
As you will know from previous entries here I had returned from visiting family in Northern Ireland in good time for the festival which is not always the case as I have been known to get back from there at about 0100 on a Saturday morning and been on a train to Broadstairs shortly after 0900 the next morning having stopped off at home briefly to ignore the bills piling up on my doorstep, swap clean laundry for soiled and pick up my guitar. Despite my best efforts, everything just seemed to conspire against me and it was an odd Folk Week in many respects. I was having a bit of difficulty getting in touch with my wonderful friends who put me up every year for the week and, indeed, far beyond but I had eventually contacted them although because of personal circumstances they were unable to host me this year so now I had a problem.
The area of Thanet which is basically Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate is a very seasonal seaside tourist region and accommodation can be hard enough to find in the summer but it is impossible in Broadstairs during Folk Week. Actually, that is not strictly true, I could get a single room for about £120 a night and upwards which is way outside my budget. I tried every site I knew including homestays and there was nothing with the nearest affordable options being Whitstable and Canterbury, neither of which are feasible commutes especially if you play late in the evening as I often do. The best I could manage was a B&B in Ramsgate from the Monday to the Friday which meant the week would not be a total washout anyway. I got in touch with my mate Paul and told him what had happened and he said that was fine as I was not actually booked and we do sessions / playarounds so it is not as if it was essential I be there much as I would have loved to.
I woke up on the Monday morning all ready to go but not a chance. As I say, everything was conspiring against me and I had the most unpleasant stomach upset, there was literally no way I was going to be able to travel. Straight back on the ‘phone to Paul to explain and lay in bed all day feeling wretched on a number of levels. I had paid for the room in advance so I called the B&B and they kindly agreed to hold the room even though I would not be there. Time is now running.
Tuesday morning and I still was not feeling anything like 100% but I was damned if I was going to miss another day so I jumped in a cab and headed to Stratford International to finally get moving East and this is where another issue that is close to my heart crops up. I had got there in good time (about 0830) and asked the friendly young lady for a return to Broadstairs. She asked me was I in a hurry to get there and I told her that I needed to arrive no later than 1130 so she told me that if I could afford to wait until after 0930 I could get an off-peak ticket which would save me a lot of money. I knew about these tickets but when she told me the comparative prices I was astounded. I bought the off-peak for £44.70, which I still think is disgusting for a 70 mile journey, on the nicely timed 0932 but had I travelled on the preceding train about 15 minutes before it would have cost me an obscene £92. How can they possibly justify that? How can our Government allow it, not to mention annual fare increases above the rate of inflation (using the higher and less accurate RPI index)? The predominantly foreign owned companies running these cash cows must be laughing all the way to the bank.
Stratford International is in the middle of Westfield shopping centre which, when it was built, was either the largest or one of the largest in Europe. It was all tied up with the 2012 Olympics redevelopment as the stadium is right next door and so I took off for a look round although it was not merely an aimless wander as I shall explain.
I have long used a series of great little Canon Ixus compact cameras which I have been very happy with but a couple of years ago I happened to have been in my local Curry’s PC World outlet, not because I like them and they have messed me about badly before but because they are so convenient to my home and I bought a Samsung WB36F as it seemed to have a lot of functions and was on sale at an absolute steal of a price. I had stuck it on the shelf at home as I didn’t see any point in breaking it out when the Canon was still going great but it had just about had it’s last days and I thought it was time to change over. I got the Samsung out of the box and charged it with no problem. I opened it up expecting to just transfer my SD card from the Canon but, oh no, that would have been far too simple as it does not take an SD card, it takes one of these idiotic and extremely fiddly “microcards” which I did not have so I took myself back to the shop I had bought the camera in to buy one. Not a chance. The guy looked at it with a slightly bemused look on his face (amazing in such a shop) and then called his mate who told me what was required and then, when asked, informed me that they did not stock them. What is the point of selling a camera that you do not have the accessories for? He suggested I go about a mile and a half down the road to Argos to get one. Sod that.
Back then to Westfield on the Tuesday morning and I wandered all round it dragging my suitcase, daypack and guitar to find out that none of the several electronics shops opened until 1000 by which point I intended to be somewhere the far side of Ebbsfleet and travelling East. Back then to catch my much cheaper train and finally make BFW.
In light of all the above and in my desire to be totally honest on this site, the images at the head of this paragraph are from previous years but I can assure you that you could never tell as absolutely nothing has changed on that journey except for the price rises.
I got to my destination in good order and headed straight to the George Inn where Paul runs an open playaround every day during Folk Week. This is always very well-attended as it gives players of all abilities a chance to come and play in a group environment and one of the booked artistes from the main roster is always detailed to play so it is great fun. When I wandered into the pub it was just as if I had left the day before although it had actually been the previous November as I had got somewhat marooned after Folk Week. Most of the wonderful staff were the same, including Dave and Bev who run the place so well and look after us brilliantly and Paul and his lovely wife Sue both greeted me with big hugs. As the place began to fill up it was just one old face after another in the same way as it has been for so many years now, albeit the venue of the playaround has changed a few times, and I felt instantly at home as I always do in this venue and this town.
Paul always has the booked guest sitting on his left and he always insists I sit on his right as he seems to like me as his “wingman” albeit he is a far superior musician to me but it is a great honour all the same. I still was not feeling great but I managed to play well enough which pleased me as I had not played in public for about nine months for one reason and another. Ordinarily, Folk Week gigs would be a signal for me to hit the bar in no uncertain manner but I really did not feel like it and only had a couple of pints before the session finished at 1500.
In years past, we would have just kept on playing but Dave had booked afternoon acts for a 1600 – 1800 set and obviously they have to get their gear set up so we needed to vacate the “stage” area pretty sharpish. We sat and had a quiet drink and a bit of a catch up with some friends and Paul announced that we were heading round to the 39 Steps micropub (or tiny tavern as I have recently heard it described) to play some more which is about par for the course. We were not booked to play there nor advertised in the programme but we are friendly with Kevin the owner and we just pitch up and ask can we play to which he invariably agrees and very decently supplies the musicians with a few pints along the way. Despite the mind-boggling selection of ciders on display (have you ever tried mango cider?) I still was not feeling up to scratch and so was still taking it very easy.
I have explained the concept of the playaround earlier and I love it with people of all abilities getting a chance to play in a group environment and hopefully learn some new tunes or ways of playing or whatever but when we move on in the afternoon to wherever we are going (Paul seems to have an ongoing arrangement with half the publicans in town) it is usually only a small group of us who are all used to playing in public and all of us have been doing so for many years and so we can afford to get a little more adventurous in our choice of tunes and also throw in a few songs which we normally do not do in the playaround. If people want to sing at lunchtime then there is an excellent singaround in the Neptune’s Hall pub, just across the road from the George, which shows you how much choice there is at Folk Week.
When it got round to about 1900 we were going to get evicted again by an incoming booked act although not as swiftly as earlier as we just sit about in the middle of the bar and the bands set up in the corner so we can work round each other easily enough. Paul and Sue were heading out that night for a family get-together so I thought that would be an ideal opportunity for me to get booked into my digs and dump my kit at least. I really could not be bothered humping all that gear on the bus so I got a cab which deposited me at the door of the Spencer Court Hotel which was one of a terrace in what had obviously been a rather grand square in days past and much of it still was although the guesthouse itself (it would never merit the term hotel) was a little scuffed round the edges.
Goodbye to one hotel bed………..
I rang the doorbell and waited, and then waited some more. Another try and another whole lot of nothing. I had noticed a handwritten sign in the window saying that if reservations were required then to ring the given mobile (cell) ‘phone number. I did not need a reservation as I already had one but, in the absence of any sign of life in the building I tried it anyway and was told to stay put and someone would be with me shortly. Sure enough, about ten minutes later a guy came sauntering round the corner, greeted me and let me into my room, asked me if I wanted breakfast which I declined and subsequently disappeared again leaving me to settle in. Remember that due to the inexplicable incompetence of my local electronics store I was still without a camera and my technological ineptitude totally precludes my using my ‘phone as a camera I was unable to take any images that evening and those that you see here were taken on subsequent days but it makes sense to the narrative to place them here. Again, I like to be totally upfront about how I throw this site together!
I would describe the room and the whole guesthouse as having seen better days and perhaps not for a while although I must stress that it was spotlessly clean. The room was furnished with a comfy double bed, TV, tea and coffee making facilities and an almost comically tiny en-suite bathroom. Looking at the outside of the building I would suggest that there had once been a large room with a balcony here which had been split into two to make a couple of bedrooms and then bathrooms had been squeezed in wherever possible. On the first evening I could see that I had the only small piece of balcony and there was a table and a couple of chairs there although they obviously had not been used for a while but the patio doors looked to me as if they were painted shut and so I was running up and down the stairs to go outside fora smoke which was a bit of a nuisance. It was only the next morning in the daylight that I worked out how to open the thing and I was quite content to sit out there for a smoke with the vista that just about included a sea view between some buildings but it was definitely pleasant on a good day although they were to be few and far between as we shall see.
I debated going back over to Broadstairs for the evening as I knew there would be plenty going on but I still was feeling far from 100% and I decided the sensible option was to have an early night despite it being my first at the Festival. I reckon I had five pints all day and was in bed by 2130 which is totally unheard of behaviour for me at any time and in any place, much less here during Folk Week but that is what I did. A few chapters of my book and off to the Land of Nod.
There are still a few days of the Festival to go so stay tuned and spread the word.